Choosing a Typeface

Choosing a typeface can be incredibly daunting and even overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with the relevant theory, it should never be a case of choosing your favorite typeface simply because it’s your favorite. Each typeface is designed to serve a specific purpose and they each carry their own qualities and unique characteristics, that can be significant factors when deciding whether they will be chosen or not.

There can be a staggeringly high level of detail taken into consideration when choosing a typeface too, from choosing type that matches the same minute details of the content, right down to even the religion of the type designer[1], of which only the most experienced typographers could be aware of, but for the sake of this introductory article I will refrain from jumping in at the deep end.

Where to start?

It’s important in any project that you read any available content before-hand, to understand what it’s about so that you can make the choices that best reflect the needs and qualities of the content. So if for example you were designing a booklet for 18th century English houses, you could start by looking at 18th century typefaces that were designed by type designers from the same time period.

Likewise, the choice would also differ if you were designing a website for 18th century English homes, you would need to choose a typeface that displayed well on screen, and not all typefaces work as ideally in print and screen together. In these situations it’s important to be aware of the constraints of the medium you are working on. I briefly covered this in a previous article titled Introducing Responsive Typography[2].

Another area to look into is what the content is trying to convey, is it trying to reflect honesty, elegance, or is it representing a large corporation that wishes to remain impersonal? Look for typefaces that posses the same qualities and experiment by setting the content in these typefaces to get a clearer idea of how it will look.

Another aspect to take into consideration is the technical requirements of the text. Are there a lot of numerals in it? If so you would want to search for a typeface than contains particularly well designed titling and text figures[3]. If you need to be able to use small caps then you need to look for a typeface than contains them. These are vital factors to consider when deciding which typefaces you want to use.

Possibly breaching into the slightly more detailed requirements but if you want to remain true to traditional type then it’s also recommended that you use the same trends and layouts that were available at the time too, so if you were working from the previous example of 18th century English houses, you might also want to look at how typographers from that era designed their layouts.

Food for thought

These are standard considerations for anyone who wants to create rich and meaningful typography and at the same time stays true to the high standards of typography. They are also valid considerations when looking to combine type, but things get into even more detail when you start doing that, So I’m going to leave that for a later article.


  1. [1] Robert Bringhurst, 2004. The Elements of Typographic Style. Version 3.2 USA: (pp.99-100). Hartley and Marks Publishers.
  2. [2] Phillip Patterson, 04/08/2013, Introducing Responsive Typography [Type & Music], [online]. Available: [18/08/2013].
  3. [3] Robert Bringhurst, 2004. The Elements of Typographic Style. Version 3.2 USA: (pp.95-96). Hartley and Marks Publishers.